Parenting is both a gift and a joy, but it’s also a full-time job. My husband and I doubled our kid count each time I was pregnant, which means we’ve been through a few versions of parenting (read – we know how much work is involved).
We went from being the parents of one sweet little girl for almost three years to two little girls for three years to three little girls and a little boy for almost nine years now (my third pregnancy was a twin pregnancy for my fellow non-mathletes). Parenting hacks are a game changer when you have more than one child, but they’re also useful if you’re parenting one.
There is no tired like raising four kids all in sports and activities at the same time tired. It’s six days a week, and we are left with one day that doesn’t belong to a practice, game, or match to live our entire life. We weren’t even half this exhausted when we had newborn twins, a 3-year-old and an almost-six-year-old. Parenting hacks are what keep us going on more than one occasion, and I thought I might share 20 of my favorite (tried and true from personal experience) parenting hacks that genuinely help. I hope even one or two can help ease your parenting load a little.
1. Keep a Bedtime Schedule
Our kids are 14, 11, and 8 right now, and we have not deviated from our bedtime schedule, and I’ll tell you why. Even though our two oldest have later bedtimes as they age, we still send all four kids to their rooms already showered, in pajamas, and with brushed teeth, at 8 PM. They don’t have to go to bed at 8 PM. The twins go to bed at 8:30, middle at 9, etc.
The kids merely have to be in their rooms at 8 PM because at that point, my husband and I have been parenting them since 5:30 AM…and we are tired. We are ready to straighten up the house, shower, and enjoy the peace and quiet (and still be asleep by 10ish). This prevents us from being overstimulated – all of us. It also promotes healthy sleep habits for all of us (granted, many nights are later because of games and practices, but we do this anytime we are home).
2. Pick Out School Clothes on Sundays
When the kids lay out what they’ll wear all week on Sundays while we meal prep, it prevents a lot of drama. There is never a time when someone can’t find something, doesn’t have something, wants something at an ungodly hour in the morning. It’s all right there, and it’s located on Sundays without a mad rush rather than 6 am on a Tuesday. This hack streamlines life like no one’s business.
3. Create A School Cart
The Container Store (maybe it was Crate and Barrel?) provided me with a super cute three-level cart on wheels that we keep in our home office. It’s got paper, folders, pencils, crayons, colored pencils, markers, pens, a stapler, tape, glue, erasers, sharpeners, etc. Anything the kids might need for homework or for school is in this cart, and they’re never without what they need. We also never find ourselves in a pinch running to the store at 9 pm to pick up something the kids might need the next day.
4. Designate a School Lunch Space
Our kids don’t eat school lunch, but they also love to eat. My husband is a master lunchbox packer, and he solved the problem of running out of everyone’s favorite items during the week. He stocks up on all their favorite lunch items, and they all go in bins on a special shelf in the pantry. Everyone knows that shelf is the school lunch shelf, which means nothing there is available for snacking during the week. Never do we run out of lunchbox items because someone accidentally ate them all during after school snack time.
5. Make Monster Formula
Our kids never worried about monsters in their rooms, but we have a nephew who did. His mom bought a spray bottle, made a cute label, and she put water in it. She used it every night in his closet, under his bed, behind his curtains, or anywhere else he was worried a monster might hide. It’s monster-away, and it works.
6. Use a Laundry Basket in the Tub
It’s a cute way to bathe your kids while also keeping their toys and baby in one place. You’ll never worry someone will fall over or hurt themselves trying to get to their toys. We know you’re watching them like a hawk in the tub, but they can reach and fall in the water in a second even with you looking.
7. Know the Tooth Fairy Rules
We were never going to be the kind of parents who forgot our role as the tooth fairy…until we forgot to be the tooth fairy one night. Even though you’re going to be a perfect parent and never forget, here’s what you say when you do forget.
- The tooth fairy can’t get in when the house alarm is on
- Mommy/daddy/brother/sister fell asleep on the couch and the tooth fairy couldn’t go
- The tooth fairy can’t enter a messy room
- Couldn’t find the tooth
- Can’t travel to hotels/out of state/other people’s houses
- You didn’t go to sleep on time
8. Give Kids Options, but Don’t Really Give Them Options
Kids like to make their own choices, which is why fighting over clothes/shoes/toys/etc. is always a pain. The best way to combat this is to give kids two options. For example, we’d always ask our girls prior to church if they wanted to wear this outfit or that one. They felt they had the power of choice on their side even though you really made the choice for them. It virtually eliminates clothing issues. The same goes for food. Do you want broccoli or green beans? When it’s their ‘choice,’ it’s not a problem.
9. Institute Donut Friday
We’ve been doing this since our oldest started kindergarten. If the kids do what they’re supposed to do in the mornings before school all week without whining, bickering, fighting, or forgetting, we leave early on Fridays and have a donut date. They love it, and it’s kept our mornings sane and happy.
10. Make a Breakfast Station
When the kids were small and couldn’t make their own breakfast, we created a breakfast station. We put little boxes of cereal, granola bars, fruit, etc. in bins where they could reach them in the pantry. They were allowed to pull out whatever they wanted for breakfast and help themselves rather than sending us running around all morning trying to accommodate four kids, four requests, etc.
11. Give Everyone Family Date Night Choices
When we have family date night – which is a useful parenting hack on its own – we let the kids pick where we go. The trick with four of them, though, is to give everyone a turn. They each get to pick every month – once a week – where we eat. They love it, and we’ve learned over the years that they actually take one another into consideration when they choose. For example, our son love chicken wings and his twin sister loves pizza, so he’ll always choose one particular restaurant that has really good wings and pizza so they’re both happy. It’s sweet.
12. Spend One on One Time With Each
When you have more than one child, it’s not easy. But once a month or so, let each child have a few hours alone with mom and dad. Let them run errands with you. Let them choose an activity. Whatever it is, this bond you forge with the kids when it’s just you and one of them is priceless. You’ll hold on to those memories forever.
13. Create and Elf Plan
If you have one of those awful Elf on the Shelf deals (we do and our teenager is the new elf master in our house, and I’m not even ashamed to say our elf is more creative and more fun than he’s been in a decade, and it has not gone unnoticed by the three younger kids) you need a plan. You’re tired. You forget. It’s understandable. Create a plan before December, keep it in your phone, and refer to it nightly. No more thinking on the spot. Even if when you forget.
14. Gambling Works with Kids
Yes, I do realize gambling is illegal, but hear me out. Placing bets with the kids is a work of art. I bet you can’t clean your room before your sister cleans hers. Bet you can’t put your laundry away faster than I can. I bet you can’t keep your bathroom clean all week. Is it sneaky? Absolutely. Is it the best parenting advice? I’m sure those who call themselves experts will say no. Does it work? Every single effing time. You are welcome.
15. Money Talks
Money talks. And that’s all you need to know about parenting and parenting hacks.
16. Time is a Wonderful Discipline Tool
Four kids is like…a lot of kids. Sometimes, they do things like forget to do things. Our middle daughter is not a neat freak. She’s just not. I’m no expert, but you might see her on that show about hoarders one day. We tried everything with her to get her to keep her room clean.
Finally, I began cleaning it for her, and I timed myself. Both her bedroom and her bathroom. However long it took me to clean her room and bathroom on a daily basis (I am embarrassed by the amount of time I spent in her room and bathroom daily), that’s how much time she went without her phone over the weekend. If I spent an hour a day, she’d lose her electronics privileges for that amount of time. Guess who keeps her room clean?
17. Don’t Provide Allowance For Basic Cleanliness Routines
Making your bed, putting your dishes in the dishwasher, and cleaning up after yourself are not jobs. They are everyday habits that you just do. Do not provide allowance for these items. Kids should learn to do these things so they learn to keep a clean home when they’re adults. Instead, provide allowance for household tasks that are not everyday items – pulling weeds, for instance, or helping a sibling with homework.
18. Don’t Buy Soda
Our daughter is in high school and had her first soda a year ago. We don’t busy it because we don’t drink it. Our kids can have water or milk when they’re thirsty. The twins are almost 9 and have never had a soda in their lives. We promote healthy beverage habits by simply not giving our kids the option to drink things that aren’t good for them. They’re allowed desserts and treats, but no soda. You’ll thank me for this one.
19. Really Listen to Your Kids
When your kids talk to you, do them the favor of really hearing them. Do not listen to respond. Do not listen to give advice. Don’t tell them their feelings are wrong or incorrect, and never belittle them for having feelings about something. If you want your kids to trust you and come to you for anything, you have to teach them now that you’re a good listener. More importantly, you need to teach them that your initial reaction is not to scream, yell, or discipline them. Hear them out, and go from there.
20. Take Responsibility for Your Actions and Apologize when Warranted
This might shock everyone, but I’m not perfect (I know, I know…). I make so many mistakes that I can’t keep track. However, it’s important for me and my husband to show our kids how to take responsibility for our actions. They know we’re wrong sometimes.
They know we are not perfect. It’s our job to lead by example, and the most important example we can provide is taking responsibility. When we make a mistake, we acknowledge it, we apologize for it, and we do better in the future. It’s worked, too. We are raising pretty exceptional kids who don’t make excuses for their mistakes. They don’t place blame, they don’t lie and they take responsibility. And the best part is that they actually learn from their mistakes.
Bonus Parenting Hacks from a 14 Year, 4 Child Veteran Mom
- Keep a spare outfit for everyone in a bag in your car (yourself included)
- Keep baby wipes in your car and your bag for the rest of your life
- Always have a bag you can use for trash in the car
- Always have a bottle of water (or two) on you
- Check to be sure the kids are wearing shoes before you pull out of the garage
- If your child is attached to a blanket/toy/item, buy more than one and keep the extras hidden. Trust me on this one. You’ll use them.
- Lock the doors when you’re having private time together. Even if it’s hours after the kids go to bed, that’s the one time they’ll wake up in the middle of the night. It is Murphy’s Law (who is Murphy and why does he make these laws?)
Additional Parenting Resources